Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tart October

Fish fillets baked in a rich citrus herb butter seasoned with freshly squeezed lime juice, lime zest, salt and freshly chopped chives.

Want the recipe?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the wine pair?
Next Thursday’s post will have all my food and wine pairing tips.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following the wine pair post, so be sure to check back.

Summer's last gasp.  Some call it Indian Summer.  But, I call it lime weather.

At least in my part of the world, here in Southern California, limes are piling into shops hot and heavy, just like the weather.  The calendar may say October, but when the thermometer outside is pushing 100, there's no better cure for an autumn heat wave than a bracing blast of tart, tropical freshness

They may be one of the smallest members of the citrus family, but these deep green powerhouses really deliver the pucker, while bringing out the flavor of other foods.

Grown in tropical and subtropical climates, limes are used to replace lemons where lemons just won't grow.  Got frost?  Then, forget about limes, but where it's warm all year-round, these thorny, scrubby evergreen trees will take root and thrive.

Unknown in Europe before the Crusades, and unknown in the New World before Columbus, limes’ ground zero point of origin seems to trace back to Southeast Asia.

For it's from here, that 10th-century Persian and Arab traders decided to cash in on this most pleasant pucker by rolling them into India and the Middle East.

But it wasn't just them who were entranced with their zippiness, for 300 years later, Arabian Moors spread their tang into Spain and then Portugal, before they hitched a not so sweet ride into southern Europe with the returning crusaders.

However, their New World conquest would take a little bit longer, with Columbus’s second voyage in 1493.  Planting them in the many Caribbean countries that he visited, they quickly became staples in the local cuisine.

But their punch was more than acidic, for they were also bursting with Vitamin C, which was a fateful discovery for the late 18th century Scottish naval surgeon, Sir James Lind.  The fatal disease, Scurvy, was decimating the British Navy’s ranks more than any other enemy, however, he found that citrus fruits rich in Vitamin C would give sailors a cure.

And so, from that time forward, British sailors consumed a daily ration of lime juice along with their rum.  And the only reason they didn't consume lemons, besides losing naming rights to their beloved nickname "limeys," was that the British were often at war with countries exporting lemons.  So, limes quickly became the citrus of choice, since they were easily imported from their colonies in the Caribbean.

Now, the British weren’t picky about which limes they used to combat Scurvy, but since we're using them in the kitchen, it's good to know the major types:

In the U.S., Persian limes, also known as Tahitian limes, are the ones most often found in the supermarket and they’re acidic and juicy and are usually seedless.
Key limes, that are also called Mexican limes or West Indian limes, are much smaller (about the size of a ping-pong ball) and are seeded, and more fragrant and acidic than their Persian cousins, who are milder in flavor.

Grown in tropical regions and in the Florida Keys (which is where they got their name), they’re not only aromatic, but are excellent for use in drinks, which is why they’re also called, "bartenders’ lime."

The last major variety is one closely associated with the cuisines of Southeast Asia, and it’s a lime that’s stronger, and more astringent than Persian or Key limes.  Bright green and pear-shaped with a distinctive knobbly skin, Kaffir limes’ juice is not usually used in cooking, but their zest and leaves are often added to soups and curries, where they lend dishes a unique floral citrus flavor.

So, before running to the store to pick up some of Indian Summer’s bounty, let me give you a few tips about picking and preparing limes:

  • Choose limes that are deep green and have a smooth, glossy skin, for ones with smooth skins are more likely plumped up with juice.
  • When you're ready to start slicing, roll them under the palm of your hand on a flat surface and make sure they’re at room temperature to extract the most juice. 
  • And lastly, when removing their zest (the colored part of the peel), be sure to avoid the white and bitter pith underneath the skin, for green is the color of the flavorful zest that you'll need in any recipe.

So now, you're finally ready to enjoy a summer burst of bounty in autumn.  And if you’re one of those not trapped in an autumn heatwave, this dish will give you a delicious excuse to have a taste of summer again.


Serves 2

2 fish fillets (like basa swai or tilapia)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
vegetable or canola oil

Lime Chive Butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lime juice (fresh)
½ teaspoon lime zest (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon chives (chopped)

Set rack to mid-oven and preheat to 400°F.
Combine the ingredients for the Lime Chive Butter, mixing well to blend and set aside.

Arrange fish fillets in a lightly oiled ovenproof baking dish or skillet.
Salt and pepper fillets, then turn them over and divide the seasoned butter evenly between them, spreading it to coat the tops completely.

Slide the fillets into the oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until they are opaque and flake easily with a fork.

Serve atop Onion Basmati Rice Pilaf accompanied by lime wedges and sliced nectarines.

And now, here’s a peek at the wine pairing that’s coming up next –

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